6.09.2012

Hoffman Dam Removal Status

Stretching across the Des Plaines river, linking Riverside and Lyons, sits Hoffman Dam. I have known this dam my entire life and have many fine memories of it. The dam as we see it today was constructed in 1950 as a modification of a much older version. Little details have been changed over that past 62 years, but generally the people in 1950 saw the same basic dam we see today.

In the early 90's, it was realized that the dam was a threat to the ecological health of the entire river by a few people and the battle to get it removed began. It has taken nearly 20 years of debates, studies, and resources to finally remove the dam as we know it. There are still quite a few people who are against removing it, but the majority sees the benefits to its demise - I am with the majority.

The plan is not to remove the dam in its entirety, but to cut a 150' notch in the center of it. In addition, they will be completely removing other smaller dams throughout the system; most already removed.

I decided to take a detour on my way to work this morning to check the status and snapped a few photos - hope you enjoy

This is at Fairbanks Dam which is about a quarter mile downstream of the Hoffman Dam. This  dam was completely removed in early Decemeber 2011 in preparation for the big dam's removal. 

Fairbanks Dam on November 28th - just days before its removal

Hoffman Dam June 9, 2012 - note the yellow markers above the dam placed in preparation for the removal of the  dam

This is the staging area on the Lyons side of the river - Construction equipment will enter the river here and drive upstream about 300' to the dam via gravel road that has been recently poured

Other side of the fence where they will enter the river with the demolition equipment

That ridge of rocks marks the recently poured road
The "island" in the middle is the end of the gravel road. The equipment will operate at this point
Another view of the "island" and one of the last times the Hoffman Dam will ever look this way
Old truck wheel and metal drum - a reminder of how dirty this river once was and how much room for improvement still exists
Picture of the staging area taken from the Riverside bank
A closer look at those yellow things. I assume they are marking the future channel of the river. Everything to the left will be water and to the right will be grass land or perhaps a park.

That's all for now - I will post pictures of the dam once it is removed. If you are interested in reading a bit about the history of the dam from beginning to now, check out the Fredrick Law Olmsted Society's website




Update* For people who are skeptical of the negative impacts that this particular dam makes on fishing and the overall health of the entire river as a whole, check out this study done by the IDNR. It shows the number of species both above and below the dam...the numbers are very different!




Update 2 - 06/27/2012 progress with pictures

22 comments:

  1. 1996 to around 2000, it was a pleasure to be involved with the issues surrounding that dam. The meetings were contentious at times. My involvement stemmed from being on the board of the Salt Creek Watershed Network. I lived near it then.

    Going further back, around 1970, lived near the Des Plaines as a kid. Everyone knew it was an open sewer and you shouldn't even touch the water if you could avoid it.

    Took a long time, but things have changed dramatically on that river. One of my favorite meetings from the 90s was the one that talked about removing Graue Mill dam on Salt Creek. You would have thought you were suggesting to kill off someone's family member.

    Thanks for all the details Nick.

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  2. Last I heard, Tuesday 6/12 may be D-Day, after one more Riverside town meeting Monday.

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    1. Thanks, Mike. Hopefully I can swing by then and get some pictures

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  3. There goes the fishing.

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    1. Once the dust settles the entire 133 miles of river will benefit from this removal. Recreational use of the river will increase and many species of fish will once again be able to inhabit the ENTIRE river. It's incredibly selfish and childish to complain that fishing on that 1/133rd of the river will change for a few people.

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  4. Hey Nick, I really enjoyed reading your post about the dam removal. I hope you can keep up posted as the area progresses once the dam is gone.

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    1. I definitely will...I think one of the first things that will be noticed is a change is water levels both above and below the dam. I am putting together a baseline for current average levels at several locations from the USGS charts so it will be a bit easier to compare.

      I am also very intrigued as to what they may find behind the current dam as they are taking it down.

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  5. The yellow thing is called either a pollution boom ("oil boom") or a turbidity curtain, depending on what it's made of. Turbidity curtains (shiny yellow plastic) are commonly spec'ed for waterway construction jobs now as a measure to protect downstream areas from floating construction debris (organics, silt, etc). The agency doing the project has to place these at the edge of their area of work.

    How well they actually work (and thus, how necessary they truly are) is another matter....

    The anti-dam removal crowd is always interesting to hear. You are losing the impoundment pool and the plunge pool, and genetically reconnecting all those fish to each other, plus providing better flushing and water quality, which leads to healthier populations of fish and theoretically leads to better fishing (although it may convert from largemouth to smallmouth, or from smallmouth to trout, etc).

    Dam removal down here (most often for shad and herring) has certainly made shad fishing harder, but since shad (and herring) are important food for sea-run striped bass, obviously it makes some sense to ensure that the smaller species have appropriate habitat to spawn, lay eggs, etc.

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    1. Thanks for the info on the yellow things. I will have to investigate those a bit further to see what they are actually made of. I guess it's somewhat confusing to me because they are upstream of the dam; not downstream. Also, they are placed along each bank and not stretched across the river.

      Regarding the change in fishing, I think that is a good thing. That small section of river has a rather diverse gathering of species but the rest of the river - above the dam is a stark contrast. According to a 1998 study by the IDNR, 25 species of fish with average abundance of 70 fish per hour of electrofishing exist BELOW the dam. Above the dam only had nine! That's right...NINE!!!! This is the part that really gets my blood boiling about people who say stuff like "there goes fishing".

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    2. I've seen those used before to keep the shore silt from washing away. Once the level of the pool comes down, it will dry out and any exposed land will quickly get overgrown. Took only six months on the Fox and the lower Batavia dam. Amazing how fast things can get overgrown.

      The one thing we all wondered about years ago was whether or not the different species would use Salt Creek to make spawning runs in the spring. THAT, could be interesting. In the late 90s they stocked smallies in Salt Creek. They should do it again when the dam comes out, see if they survive better. When they leave the creek, they would be going to a river that is hopefully in much better condition. I think that's what killed them off last time, winding up in the pool above that dam if they left the creek.

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    3. I am actually wondering/hoping the same thing. I live a block away from the salt creek and was raised in the same general neighborhood. For as long as I can remember, I have always hoped that I would look in that water near my house and see fish. For as long as I can remember, I have been let down.
      There are two exceptions to that - a group of a dozen or so baby pike (6-8") were dead and washed ashore once. The second is when a carp went cruising by downstream. Aside from that - nothing.

      I think that in order for runs to happen, the silt build up in the salt creek is going to have to disappear somehow. The stretch from my house (the zoo to where it dumps into the des plaines) is a muddy and silty shallow pool. There is very little current generally and at best might be a couple of feet deep. Who knows, maybe the stronger current of the des plaines once the dam is removed will help siphon the water through the salt?

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  6. I've had some peripheral involvement with the project, and from those closer to it I am hearing that Monday June 18th is when Hoffman Dam dam will be actually breached. Haven't heard an estimated time.

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    1. Thanks for the info!! I am out of town until the 22nd so hopefully I will come home to a whole new river

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  7. So there is all this talk about Riverside residents and fishing, but does anyone have information on what the removal will do to Riverside Lawn, the cook county property that always floods. Bismark, Stanley Ave, Gladstone, & 39th St. I have lived and grown up there since I was a baby. My family is still back there and they are just a little concerned over the removal. And the fact that they had no notice of any meetings. Are they digging trenches? do we have any idea of what would happen if there should be a major flood without the dam?

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    1. I do know that there are plans to regrade a lot of that area to handle flood waters a bit more effectively but I am not sure of those exact plans. I am fairly positive that much of that work will take place on the opposite banks of your area. It has been said that this dam removal will actually help with flooding instead of creating more.

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  8. as of today june 21st 2012 the dam has a big gaping hole in the middle about 30 foot wide.

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    1. A local friend sent me a couple pictures of the progress as I was out of town. I am hoping to make a quick stop this afternoon and will make a new post of the current progress as soon as I can!

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  9. Boating above the dam will be ruined however...this was the only legitimate spot near us to motor boat the river....fishing was terrible of course, but fun to power up to the golf course and just float back.

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    1. I suppose you could be right but I think that the river is especially low right now due to the lack of precipitation we have had for the past several months. I think on a normal water year, you would still be able to boat up there.

      If not, I don't think that is too big of a deal. In all the years I have lived in the area, I think I can remember seeing less than ten boats out there.

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  10. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Illinois-Lakes-Management-Association-ILMA/173941715951432

    Note the link regarding the fish survey near the old dam site.

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    1. Yep! Awesome stuff isn't it?! I also shared that link on the BFA Facebook page! Awesome awesome awesome

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Let's hear it!

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